Interview Speed Dating

Courtesy of Lauren Newell from Ohio Northern who presented this at the ABA Conference earlier this month…and I’d be happy to post other teaching tools or ideas from all.  Thanks much to Lauren!

At the ABA Conference I had the pleasure of being part of a panel called Negotiation Courses: Beyond the Roleplay? Our talk focused on ways in which we venture beyond the traditional roleplay exercises in our negotiation courses. I’m looking forward to trying out the ideas presented by my co-panelists, Rishi Batra (Texas Tech), Andrea Schneider (Marquette), Peter Reilly (Texas A&M), and Hiro Aragaki (Loyola-LA), in my negotiation class this fall.

The exercise I shared is something I designed to help my students practice their interview negotiation skills and, at the same time, to get a chance to network with alumni. I affectionately refer to it as “interview speed dating.” Here is how I run it:

One to two months in advance:  I reach out to a number of alumni to ask if they will come to my class and participate in mock interviews. I aim to find alums with varying levels of experience (from under three years to 30+ years) who work in a variety of practice settings (public defender’s office, large firm, solo practice, in-house counsel, etc.). I like to invite alumni for two reasons: First, it shows students the wide variety of potential career paths they can have after graduating from our law school—and inviting relatively recent alumni makes those careers seem more realistically attainable. Second, it gives students an opportunity to network with employers who may be particularly inclined to hire our grads.

For my class of 24 students, I try to find six alumni to conduct in-person interviews. I also line up one person to participate via Skype and another to interview via phone. This exercise will work with more or fewer, too, so use whatever resources you have.

Three to five days in advance:  I tell students that we will be conducting interviews in class and I solicit six volunteers to participate in the phone and Skype interviews. I ask all students to bring in paper copies of their résumés, and ask the phone and Skype interviewees to email me copies of their résumés a few days before class. I remind the phone interviewees to bring their phones to class (as if they need the reminder!) and ask the Skype interviewees to bring headphones to plug into the classroom computer.

I email the alumni to confirm their participation and to let them know when and where to show up (or to sit by their phone or computer). I give them an overview of how the class will run (more on that below), though I don’t provide them with scripted interview questions. I emphasize that I want them to ask the types of interview questions that they would normally ask candidates during an interview. I find that the students are exposed to a wider variety of interviewing styles and have a more realistic experience if the interviewers ad lib. I also send to the phone and Skype interviewers the résumés of the students they will be interviewing.

Other than for the phone and Skype interviews, I choose not to match up the interviewers and interviewees in advance. Instead, I tell my students to prepare for interviews in a variety of different practice settings. You could certainly match them up in advance and instruct the students to prepare for their specific interview. Among other benefits, this gives students practice doing the type of preparatory research that they should be doing before their real-life interviews. The main reason why I don’t do advance match-ups is because the interviewers occasionally have work conflicts that force them to cancel at the last minute; since I don’t pair people up in advance, I save myself some logistical headaches.

Setting up the classroom:  I hold class in a large lecture hall that has plenty of space for everyone to spread out. The room is set up like this:room set up

This set-up keeps everyone in the same room and accessible for debrief but separates the conversations enough that they don’t interfere with each other. I contact the Skype interviewer using my Skype account so we don’t waste time having the students log into and out of their accounts, though I have the students call the phone interviewer using their own phones. The Skype interviewees plug their headphones into the computer during the interviews so that their conversations aren’t audible to the whole class.

During class:  At the beginning of class, I collect all of the students’ résumés. I ask the in-person interviewers and the Skype interviewer to spend one to two minutes introducing themselves and their practices (it’s a bit cumbersome to include the phone interviewer here). Each in-person interviewer then picks an interviewee by drawing one of the students’ résumés from the pile. I like this selection method because it ensures that students who might hesitate to volunteer end up participating. Students who aren’t actively interviewing at any given time form “fishbowls” around the interviews; I tell them to be prepared to ask questions or offer constructive feedback after the interviews are over.

The first round of interviews is the screening interview round. I ask the interviewers to conduct basic screening interviews, as though they are winnowing down a large group of candidates. The interviewers read the students’ résumés for the first time as they ask questions, which is typical of many first-round interviews (at least in my experience). Having the interviewers come in “blind” this way puts the onus on the students to highlight their experiences during the interview, rather than letting them rely on their résumés to do the work for them. Of course, if you choose to match students and alumni up before class, you could certainly circulate the students’ résumés in advance so the interviewers have a chance to read them.

After ten to fifteen minutes—or whenever the interviews have reached their natural conclusions—the interviewers draw new résumés from the pile for round two, and the non-interviewing students rotate around the room to observe someone new. This second round is the call-back interview. I ask the interviewers to conduct the interview as though the students are candidates who survived the initial screening interview and are being brought back for more in-depth questions. The interviewers tend to ask tougher questions during this round to suss out whether the candidates are a good fit for this job. “What kind of salary are you looking to make?” is one I hear frequently.

The call-back interviews tend to last another ten to twenty minutes, and then the interviewers draw their third batch of résumés. The final round of interviews is the post-offer round. I ask the interviewers to act as though they have extended an offer to the candidates and are now negotiating the jobs’ salaries, benefits, and other related issues.

When the post-offer negotiations are over, we reconvene as a group and debrief. I often ask the Skype interviewer to join in this debrief so that we can address the added complications of interviewing via technology. During this debrief, the interviewers provide general feedback about effective and ineffective interview behaviors they observed and the students ask interviewing strategy questions and provide their own feedback. This is a great opportunity to address students’ concerns about hiring negotiations and for them to get answers to the questions they really want to ask, like “How do I ask an employer how many hours I’m going to have to work without making it sound like I don’t want to work hard?”

My students have told me this is one of the most helpful exercises we do during the class. I suspect it’s successful in large part because the students find it personally relevant and take the interviews very seriously—more so than if, say, I were conducting them. I’ve also been fortunate to have had wonderful alumni volunteers, who have shared their contact information with the students and have offered to be a resource for them.

I hope you’ll try interview speed dating in your class! And if you think of any ways to improve upon it, please let me know.

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